There’s an article on Vice/Noisey which has been making the internet rounds lately about being a lady in a band. I have mixed feelings about even mentioning the article, because I don’t want to belittle the author’s experiences and feelings, but it’s definitely important context. Reading it, and some of the reactions and commentary around it, got me thinking about how I might write something similar. I just can’t bring myself to adopt the trademark snarky tone of something in Vice, because as much as I think it’s important to find humor in life, I can’t help but take stuff like this a little seriously after my many years of experience.
I started my first band when I was 18, and now I’m 34. I’ve stayed consistently involved, playing in bands, putting out records, organizing and playing tours and fests, and attending shows, and I still play in an active band that plays regularly and has 2 albums under our belt. I love punk rock, but there’s no denying that I’m in the minority as a lady. I’ve almost always played with men, except for a few brief but glorious moments practicing and playing with Go-Go’s and Bikini Kill cover bands. I refuse to believe that there is anything inherent about women that would cause them not to want to play music, so if this male-dominated trend is a result of something learned or cultural, that means it can change.
Being in a band is hard, and being a woman in a band is especially hard. But it’s not impossible, and it’s so fucking worth it. I’ve fucked up, I’ve done and said stupid things, and held stupid assumptions myself. I’ve tried to learn from it all. Here are some of the things I’ve learned, in the hopes that it will help some more people along this road…
How to be a woman in a band for over 15 years and still like it:
Choose your bandmates wisely. Play with people who don’t think or assume that you’re any less capable than they are, and who inspire and encourage you to get better at whatever it is you do in your band. They don’t have to be your best friends, but they should be people who you want to be your best friends. They should be easy to get along with and you should be easy to get along with. The road, in particular, is trying on relationships. You’ll have to put up with a lot of shit, and you need good people around you on your side. Your band is your number one safe space. Remove (or remove yourself from) toxic emotional situations.
Feel free to get mouthy with the door guy. He’s often a total douchebag, and it’s ok to make sure he knows that you’re IN the band and not just WITH the band. Door guys will argue with you over this. Assert yourself. It’s ok. You’re supposed to be there, and you deserve credit for your role in your band.
Be a little more delicate with the sound guy. He might also be a douchebag, but he’s one that has the power to make you sound shitty, and you didn’t drive 6 hours to sound shitty. Be nice. Say “thank you” and learn his name, but if he gets condescending, you can still tell him what’s up. When he asks you if you know how a DI box works, say, “Yeah, but I kinda like the sound of my amp. That’s why I brought it here and carried the big stupid thing up the steps and onto this stage, so I’d prefer you mic it.” You know your gear better than he does, so when he fumbles with the mic and starts examining your cab, tell him exactly what size and how many speakers you’ve got in there and show him where to put the mic. Smile and say “thank you.” Crisis averted and you will sound better than if you let him bowl you over and plugged you into that shitty DI box.
Other ladies and queers are your allies. This includes all of them, not just the ones who play in the bands. Friends, girlfriends, promoters, people at the show. None of them are enemies or competition. They’re there because they’re into some of the same shit you’re into, and they’re people, who might be really awesome and could save your ass (or your pants) if you need a tampon or just someone without a dick to talk to. Do your best to make them all feel comfortable. If you act like you’re the only one who earned your space there, you’re doomed to a life of adjusting to the boy’s club, instead of making it a club for everyone. Trust me, trying to adjust to the boy’s club gets really boring and feels bad.
Don’t apologize (unless you actually have something to be sorry about.) You belong where you are as much as anyone else there. We’re conditioned to apologize a lot and feel sorry about our needs and wants which are generally not unreasonable. Of course, if you get drunk and piss on someone’s shoe, grovel like you damn well should. But when a creepy dude tells you you’re the greatest chick bass player he’s ever seen and can he buy you a drink? Please, if you can muster it, just tell him to fuck off or you’re just not interested. If you respond with, “I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend,” you’re making him the next woman’s problem. You’re not and shouldn’t be sorry, and it’s important to recognize that anytime you don’t respond to someone like that honestly, they move right along without questioning their words or behavior. (Though, admittedly, sometimes you don’t have the energy for that conversation, and it’s also ok to pick your battles and do what you have to do to feel safe.) Also, it’s ok to seek out quiet time to recharge. A musician’s life is loud and full of distractions, and it’s completely normal if it makes you feel crazy sometimes. Go for a walk, wake up early to catch a shower, or sneak a nap in the grass where you can. Respect your self-preservation instinct.
Support inclusive venues. Sometimes the only place to play might be a dude-oriented bar or rock club, but most towns have alternatives, like houses, all-ages DIY spaces, etc, which tend to be more lady/queer friendly. Play those places! Even if your band is big enough to play the stupid rock club, you could help bring revenue to the cooler space. Help those places grow and thrive and go back to them. And you’ll probably meet nicer people and have more fun.
Understand the details and avoid trouble where you can. This goes for anyone in a band, not just ladies. But we ladies have a generally tougher time, so if you can minimize trouble and discomfort, it makes the big, bad surprises easier to deal with. Know your gear and take care of it. Keep things well-maintained, and go over everything before you head out on the road. Make sure you or someone in your band has changed the oil, checked belts, fixed leaks, etc on the van. Change your strings, drum heads, and make sure your amp tubes are in good shape. Have good contact info and details on the shows. Learn to pack lightly and efficiently. Splurge on a travel towel and/or pillow so you can sink-bathe and sleep better. Eat as well as you can, take vitamin C, and drink lots of water. Try to make good logistical and emotional decisions and call your mom or your best friend if you need to remember who you are. Van breakdowns, gear malfunctions, and getting lost, over-tired or sick are really good ways to get stressed out, and if you’re already ready to rip someone’s head off when you get to the show, it’s going to bother you that much more when someone inevitably says something shitty to you. Do your best to keep yourself healthy, happy, and ready to take on anything, because you might have to.
Have fun! There is plenty to be bummed and pissed about, and you should rail against those things whenever you feel the need. But you are also in a position where you are consistently being exposed to new inspiration, and great people, places, and ideas. Slow down and enjoy those things. Playing music with your friends is fucking awesome. And you are also in a unique position to convert your anger into something cathartic and share it with others. Find comfort and beauty in the sweat, the spilled beers, and the musty basements. This is your world, and for all its horribleness, it’s still beautiful, and there is still so much more wonder to find and share.
another awesome response to that noisey article! let’s all always talk about this stuff yes please